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Healthcare Reform: Time For the Dems to Stop Running And Face The Music

On the very day that the initial batch of healthcare reform provisions went into effect, the Republicans released their "Promise to America" campaign platform, which, of course, includes their "repeal and replace" plank on reform. The rest of the healthcare program from House Minority Leader John Boehner and his troops is as weak and wishy-washy as anything that George W. Bush proposed. Yet instead of attacking Republican do-nothing-ism, Democrats are running away from their own historic achievement. This has to change.

President Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, naturally, praised the first fruits of the Affordable Care Act. Among those gifts to consumers are the lifting of lifetime caps on insurance coverage, a ban on pre-existing condition exclusions for children, and the requirement that adult children be allowed to stay on their parents' health plans until 26. Yet, as Politico reports, no Democratic candidates for Congress are running campaign ads touting their vote for the reform legislation. Indeed, a handful of Democrats are advertising their "no" votes. Some Democratic Senators, including Barbara Boxer of California and Michael Bennet of Colorado, don't even take credit on their websites for passing healthcare reform.

Meanwhile, gleeful Republicans are launching attacks on "Obamacare," and Republican support groups are buying far more TV advertising time than their Democratic counterparts are.

What's wrong with this picture?

Bill Clinton had it right when he told Judy Woodruff on PBS' "Lehrer News Hour" that it's time for the Democrats to stand up and draw a sharp comparison between themselves and Republicans. Speaking of the federal budget hole created by the Bush Administration and the recession that its policies helped spawn, Clinton said that if the Republicans complain about the budget deficit under Obama, the Democrats should compare their policies to those of Bush and ask the public to decide which party is more likely to fix the problem.

Here's the Republican healthcare plan, in essence: Instead of requiring individuals to buy coverage, as the Affordable Care Act does, the Republicans would rein in malpractice suits, let people purchase insurance across state lines, and expand health savings accounts.

None of these ideas make sense. As a couple of recent studies show, malpractice reform would do little to reduce health costs. If people could buy insurance across state lines, their costs might go down because they'd be able to purchase skimpy plans in states that don't have strong consumer protections; but when they actually needed the insurance, they'd find it didn't cover much. So health costs would go up because they would avoid necessary care. As for health savings accounts, more employers are embracing them because they save money in the short run. But they're not a good deal for people with chronic conditions, who tend to run through their HSAs quickly and must then meet high deductibles.

What the Democrat candidates are fleeing, in other words, is an intellectual vacuum.

While the public is about evenly divided on whether the Affordable Care Act is a good idea, that means that the Democrats could lead half of the people in support of the reform law. Those are pretty good odds for those who have the courage to defy the Tea Party and its ilk.

Finally, I'd like to reflect on Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker who authored the first "Contract With America" in 1994 and nearly shut down the government to promote his agenda. Gingrich, who is now comparing Sebelius to a Soviet Communist for her criticism of insurance companies, is like the bad boy who glowers in the back of his high school class, cutting up and making wisecracks while the good students try to learn. The last time the class followed him, they ended up in detention. Do we want to do it again and make Boehner the new Gingrich?

Image supplied courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.